Burning photos to eating soba noodles: The different ways the world celebrates New Year
MANILA, Philippines—As most COVID-19 restrictions were already relaxed all over the world, some eight billion people are expected to celebrate the New Year in a brighter mood.
But behind the fireworks that are set to lighten the evening sky on Dec. 31 are long-held traditions and practices that continue to make their way to New Year celebrations across the globe.
Let’s take the practice of keeping 12 coins on New Year’s Eve as an example.
Some Filipinos, on the evening of Dec. 31, do not only prepare food and 12 round-shaped fruits for media noche. They also fill their pockets with 12 coins, believing that it would bring about good fortune.
The 12 coins also represent the 12 months of the year, indicating that if you have these, you can expect luck all-year-round.
But this custom is only one of the many traditions observed all over the world for New Year. Here are some of the others:
- Throw things out the window
New Year celebrations in Italy come with a tradition that is believed to make the year a good one—some people throw old things out the window at midnight.
The website thepioneerwoman.com explained that the act signifies “letting go of the past and making room for good fortune the new year will bring.”
As italyperferct.com stressed, this custom is most common in the south of Italy, which was once a significant part of Greece.
The website studiainitalia.com said the tradition is still alive in several parts of Italy, with people believing that it is a way to “get rid of evil” that piled up throughout the year.
- Eat ring-shaped food and find the one with a coin
Having ring-shaped and round-shaped food on New Year is a custom believed all over the world to bring good fortune “full-circle” and Greece is no exception.
The website thepioneerwoman.com said a special bread called “vasilotopia” is served at midnight in Greece.
“A coin is placed inside the batter and whoever finds it in their slice [of the vasilotopia] will have extra luck.”
The website sbs.com said in older times, the coin, which is wrapped in foil, was often a valuable one, such as a gold sovereign.
- Take a step with right foot
Optimistic, people in Argentina step forward with their right foot as they welcome the New Year, the website mid-day.com said.
It explained that stepping forward with your right foot at midnight is believed to make everything right throughout the year.
As stressed by the website explore.com, this tradition should be easy to keep in mind—right foot for the right way.
This New Year custom is likewise followed in several ways across different countries, including Greece.
- Eat collard greens, pork and black-eyed peas
New Year celebrations in the south of the United States are highly characterized by a festive dinner of collard greens, pork and black-eyed peas.
As defined by Encyclopedia Britannica, black-eyed peas are small legumes—light beans that have a dark spot on it.
The almanac.com said the dish, which has been a New Year fixture in the region since the 1800s, is called Hoppin’ John.
As explained by thepioneerwoman.com, the black-eyed peas represent coins while the collard greens stand for cash.
- Eat 12 grapes for each stroke of the clock
The Atlas Obscura said when bells ring at midnight, revelers in Spain are too busy to set off fireworks. Instead, they’re filling their mouths with 12 green grapes.
As stated by the website theblacklabel.com, eating 12 grapes is believed, especially in Barcelona, Bilbao and Cadiz, to bring about good fortune.
It was stressed that the custom is traceable to the uvas de la swerte tradition of grape farmers in Alicante, Spain, who suggested the idea when they had a surplus harvest in the 1900s.
“Each grape represents good luck in each month ahead but all the fruit must go down during the time it takes the clock to chime 12 times—so you only have 12 seconds.”
- Eat pickled herring
“A tradition to honor,” people in Poland, Scandinavia, Germany and Sweden eat pickled herring on New Year’s Eve, believing that it would bring them prosperity for the year to come.
But why herring, a fish?
The website seriouseats.com explained that the silver-scaled herring “probably look more like money [or coin].”
Likewise, historically, the herring catch was crucial to economic prosperity of merchants then, seriouseats.com stressed.
The Smithsonian Magazine said consuming pickled herring at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve in Germany, Poland and Scandinavia is “associated with a bountiful catch.”
- Snack on soba noodles
Noodles are a staple in Japanese cuisine, so it is likewise the highlight of the celebrations of many families all throughout the country on New Year’s Day.
As explained by the website thepioneerwoman.com, the Japanese “eat buckwheat soba noodles, which symbolize longevity and prosperity.”
The website livejapan.com said this custom dates back about 800 years, to the Kamakura period, “and it is said that it all started at one Buddhist temple that gave soba to poor people on New Year.”
“In the Edo period, these New Year’s noodles, or ‘toshikoshi soba,’ eventually turned into a fixed custom done by people all over Japan—even today.”
- Throw ice cream
As stressed in a New Year article by the EU Business School, every child’s nightmare is represented in Switzerland on New Year’s Day by a fallen ice cream.
The Swiss drop ice cream on the ground, but for what?
The website pastemagazine.com said people believe that the act is expected to bring richness and good fortune.
“There’s no need to be upset,” smartertravel.com said, stressing that dropping the sweet concotion is a custom done on purpose for the New Year revelry.
- Burn photos to get rid of memories you want to leave behind
Photos are for keeps, they say, but for people in Ecuador, it is common to burn photos before midnight.
As explained by the website purewow.com, “that way, they can rid themselves of memories they don’t want to bring into the new year.”
The website countryliving.com said the old photographs that Ecuadorians set on fire represent bad memories.
This age-old tradition, it said, is thought to help “banish any ill fortunes or bad things that have happened over the last 12 months.”
- First person to enter house has to bring gift
Aside from the tradition that people inside a house should not leave until someone enters from the outside, it is believed in Scotland that the first to enter should bring a gift.
The website mentalfloss.com said the first person to cross your home’s threshold in New Year is required to bring you an assortment of symbolic gifts.
These symbolic gifts include coins, salt, bread, coal, and whiskey.
As stressed by the cntraveler.com, the first person that enters the house on the first day of the new year “sets the tone” for the rest of the year.
- Carry empty suitcase
The website countryliving.com said it is important for people in Colombia to carry an empty suitcase on New Year’s Day as it is seen as setting oneself up for adventures.
It was explained by modelliving.com that “to make sure the next year is made up of 12 months of travel and adventure, grab your suitcase at midnight and pull it around the block.”
However, it stressed: “The suitcase can be full or empty depending on how active you’re feeling, but the route must be a full lap of your street.”
This tradition is likewise observed in Chile and Mexico.
- Have rooster predict love life
Isn’t it that in many weddings, the one who catches the bride’s bouquet is the one believed to wed?
But in Belarus, the website cntraveler.com said locals set free a rooster on New Year’s Day to determine which ladies will be married next.
It said women all sit in a circle, each with a pile of corn in front of them and a rooster at the center.
Then the woman whose corn is eaten first by the rooster is believed to be the first one to tie the knot.
- Eat 7 to 12 meals
Based on a heart.co.uk post that was shared by the Estonian Embassy in London, people in Estonia eat seven to 12 meals on New Year’s Day.
“In Estonia, some believe that people should eat seven, nine, or twelve times on New Year’s Eve.”
“These are lucky numbers in Estonia; it is believed that for each meal consumed, the person gains the strength of that many men the following year,” it said.
However, meals should not be completely finished—some food should be left for ancestors and spirits who visit the house on New Year’s Eve.
- Read onions for next year’s weather
As stated by cntraveler.com, some locals in Romania peel onions on the last day of the year, salt them, and then read the “skins” to find out the weather for next year.
The website uncover-romania.com explained that each family cut an onion into 12 equal slices—one for each month—adding the same quantity of salt to each slice.
“The water each layer had in the first morning of the year showed how much rain to expect in the coming months,” it said.
- Talk to your livestock
Extending the New Year greetings to your livestock, especially cows, is a long-held tradition in Belgium.
The EU Business School said in a New Year article that “farmers lovingly whisper sweet nothings into their favorite cow’s ear on New Year’s Day.”
“Get their words right and it’ll be ‘moosic’ to the cow’s ears, meaning they will be rewarded with a year of good fortune.”
Likewise, talking to your livestock is thought to bring about good health for the next year, cntraveler.com said.
- Bang loaves of bread on the wall
The website tasteofhome.com said the Irish have a tradition of banging bread against the walls of their houses on New Year’s Eve.
“The idea is that bad luck and evil spirits are chased away and good luck is invited in.”
It said the act “also ensures that the coming year will be filled with an abundance of bread and other food.”
- Wear white
As shared by cntraveler.com, revelers in Brazil wear white to ring in the New Year.
“The thought is that color scares away dark, evil spirits and sets you up for success as the new year begins,” it said.
The act of wearing white on New Year’s Eve, the website soulbrasil.com said, came from an African religion, Candomblé, whose followers always wore white clothes to deliver offerings before midnight to the queen of the sea, Iemanjá — an African deity originally from Nigeria.
The tradition began in Brazil in the 1950s on the beaches of Salvador, a city with a strong influence of African culture, and in São Paulo, when a group called “Primado de Umbanda” went to Praia Grande to offer a procession.
- Eat lentils
As the clock strikes 12, Chileans eat a spoonful of lentils to ensure a year filled with work and wealth, the cntraveler.com said.
Lentils, spruceeats.com said, small, lens-shaped legumes, range in color from yellow and red to green, brown, and even black.
The website theculturetrip.com explained that people eat three spoons of plain lentils. The first is for love, the second is for health and the third is for wealth.
- Dance while wearing bear costumes
The cntraveler.com said a yearly “Bear Dance” takes place in some villages in Romania.
“Locals dress up in their best bear costume and dance around, a move that is thought to ward off evil spirits.”
The Dance of the Bear, theculturetrip.com stressed, signifies the death and rebirth of time.
“Performed between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, this ancient ritual brings together the whole community, who gather to watch the performance,” it said.
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SOURCES: PUREWOW.COM, THEPIONEERWOMAN.COM, MENTALFLOSS.COM, CNTRAVELER.COM, COUNTRYLIVING.COM
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